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August 4, 2015

A letter from the chair of Theater, Dance & Media at Harvard, Martin Puchner:

On April 7, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted unanimously to establish a new concentration in Theater, Dance & Media. The new concentration will open in the fall of 2015. The new concentration will be open to any Harvard College student; no separate auditioning process is envisioned (there will be auditions for participation in concentration productions, however).

Detailed information about course offerings, advising, and requirements will be forthcoming in the next few months on this website. For the time being, please consult the document below to get a sense of the structure of the concentration (this is a preliminary document and subject to change). You will also find, at the end of this document, a comment on the role of media in the new concentration.

I. Concentration Structure and Requirements

Our concentration aims to integrate historical and theoretical study with art making—a central concern of the Report of the Task Force on the Arts. Our courses combine critical reading and writing with art making, bringing the classroom to the studio, the studio to the classroom, and both to the stage. More specifically, our studio courses allow students to acquire hands-on experience with the different aspects of art making—directing, acting, design, dramaturgy, dance—thus deepening their understanding of these complex art forms, while their education in theater history and aesthetics informs their guided experiments in the studio. In this way, the concentration will integrate experiential learning and historical study.

The structure of the concentration as outlined below is informed by the three features that make the study of theater, dance, and media a unique occasion for a liberal arts education: their composite, multi-media nature; the process of historical adaptation; and collaborative art making. The sophomore tutorial, "Drama, Theater, Theory,” will emphasize the multi-medial nature of theater and offer an introduction to the different languages and art forms of which theater, dance, and media are composed. This composite nature will be developed and deepened in a junior tutorial, as well as in elective seminars, lectures, and studio classes, where students will learn the different constituent parts of theater, dance, and media both practically and theoretically. The historical dimension of these art forms will be anchored in theater history requirements. Practical theater work will teach students how to navigate the collaborative process of theater making. In addition, a significant number of courses will emphasize the intellectual history of reflection on theater and its influence on other disciplines. For additional information on the structure of the concentration and its advising structure, please consult the answers to the concentration questionnaire below.

In order to allow students varying degrees of intensity, the concentration will offer the following options:

1. Basic requirements: 11 half courses

2. Honors concentration: 13 half-courses

1. Basic Requirements (11 half-courses). A total number of 11 half-courses must be taken. These half-courses need to include the following required courses and distribution requirements (students also need to fulfill additional performance and technical requirements).

 - Drama, Theater, Theory. Taught by our core faculty, this sophomore tutorial introduces students to the variety of theatrical forms, as well as to the fundamental tools of theatrical analysis. This is a required half-course (all courses below are half-courses unless otherwise noted) and will have a 97 label. This course is open to concentrators only. The concentration will develop other, open gateway courses for students interested in exploring theater, dance, and media.

 - A junior tutorial. This is a required half-course, taught primarily by advanced graduate students across FAS departments, but it might also be taught by qualified A.R.T. Institute graduate students or by lecturers. This requirement is designed to integrate classroom study and studio practice in groups of 3-4 students. The goal of the tutorial is to test insights generated from critical reading in the context of studio practice and to use the experience of studio practice to reflect back on critical reading. The result of the junior tutorial can be a final performance combined with a written account of the relation between reading, research, and studio practice that has occurred over the course of the semester, or else a written project that includes reflections on studio practice. The junior tutorial is open to concentrators only.

The junior tutorial is organized by a faculty course head, typically the DUS. Either the DUS or the chair also offers a semester-long required pedagogical colloquium each year, on the model adopted by many other departments such as English or Music, specifically directed at graduate students teaching junior tutorials. The teaching colloquium addresses the specific pedagogical challenges of the junior tutorials, which are intended to cover a broad spectrum of approaches, depending on different student interests. Specifically, the colloquium develops strategies for integrating theory and practice. The colloquium can also be used by the teaching fellows to discuss concrete problems and challenges—but also particularly successful exercises—that come up in the course of teaching a junior tutorial. Since the colloquium is only a half-course, the DUS or the chair holds a number of meetings with teaching fellows across the year to provide pedagogical guidance when the colloquium is not in session.

In addition, the concentration will initiate a graduate seminar aimed at graduate students interested in theater pedagogy and in teaching in the concentration. The graduate seminar will develop syllabi and other pedagogical principles and strategies for the concentration.

Finally, the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research, an annual Mellon-funded summer school that takes place at Harvard, will add a pedagogical workshop for graduate students and A.R.T. Institute students interested in teaching in the concentration.

Since the announcement of the proposed concentration, a significant number of graduate students with theater practice backgrounds have come forward and expressed excitement about the training and teaching opportunities offered by the concentration (from such departments as Comparative Literature, Romance Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages and Literatures, English Literature, and the A.R.T. Institute). Additionally, there are currently several lecturers affiliated with entities such as History and Literature with training in this area. We feel confident that we have a large enough pool of potential graduate student tutors to accommodate double-digit student interest per year.

 - At least 4 courses focused on critical and scholarly approaches. Taught by faculty based in various humanities departments, including literature, music, art history, V.E.S. as well as folklore and mythology, these lectures and seminars develop students’ knowledge in the different components of theater, dance, and media including dramatic literature, design, dramaturgy, musical theater and opera, architecture, dance, story-telling, and acting. Here, too, not all critical courses should be taken in a single discipline, for example dramatic literature, to ensure that students study the various aspects of theater making. Students will consult with their concentration advisors and the DUS about the distribution of critical courses.

 - At least 4 practice-based or studio courses. Taught by the A.R.T. and dance faculty, lecturers, Professors of the Practice, or the creative writing faculty in English and other departments, these courses allow students to explore a range of theater, dance, and media practices including directing, design, arts entrepreneurship, acting, dance, choreography, playwriting, dramaturgy and work in newer media. Even though these courses are taught by theater professionals, their goal is not a conservatory-style training. Rather, these courses emphasize the relation between study and practice as critical reading is brought to bear on art making. Not all practice-based courses should be in a single discipline (for example, acting). In addition, students should become familiar with at least one theater language (such as Suzuki, Forsythe, Commedia, motion design and motion capture, Alexander technique, Laban, viewpoints, or other theater, movement, or other dance systems). Cumulatively, the practice-based courses should provide students with a well-rounded performance experience. Students should discuss their choice of practice-based courses—indeed of all courses—with their concentration advisors.

 - Theater History. Distribution requirement. Students are required to take at least one half-course that spans a substantial time period and that includes various genres and forms of theater, dance, and media examining the continual process of historical adaptation and appropriation. Examples are A History of Western Drama; American Drama 1787 to the Present, or a course, World Theater, that is currently being developed.

 - Distribution requirement. At least one half-course, either studio-based or seminar-based, should focus on non-Western theater or non-traditional performance traditions. Such courses include DA 172 China on Stage; DA 171 Participatory Theater; DA 173 Acting and Authenticity; DA 167 Hip-Hop and Spoken Word; AAAS 11 Spectral Fictions, Savage Phantasms.


Other requirements:

- Participation in at least 2 departmental productions. Concentration productions enable students to put together the various skills acquired in studio-classes and seminars under the guidance of theater professionals. Students also learn to collaborate, a crucial skill for any work in the theater—and outside the theater. While some departmental productions will aim to present polished work, others will be informal presentations that exhibit the results of a pedagogical process. Theatrical productions outside the concentration that involve theater or dance professionals—for example the Visiting Director’s Project—might count towards this requirement, but need to be approved by the DUS. Student-organized shows do not count for this requirement. Concentration productions will be open to non-concentrators. This requirement will be graded sat/unsat.

 - Participation in at least two additional productions. Students are encouraged to participate actively in many productions, but are required to participate in at least two, either departmental productions or student-organized productions, for example those overseen by the HRDC. With this requirement (and by opening concentration shows to non-concentrators) we want to ensure a close collaboration between the concentration and extra-curricular theater groups. Concentration advisors and the DUS make sure that this requirement is fulfilled appropriately. This requirement will be graded sat/unsat.

 - Training modules in the technical aspects of theater making. Students must go through the appropriate training for operating light boards and other theater machinery, including video projection and recording. This know-how can be acquired either by working on a crew for theater productions or by taking technical studio design classes. This, as in the case of all other requirements, will be tracked by the concentration advisor and the DUS. This requirement will be graded sat/unsat.

 - Students are required to complete two theater labs. Theater labs involve working on departmental shows, under the guidance of professionals, in such capacities as stage management, light and sound operation, shop, master electrician, technical director, hanging lights, and wardrobe. This requirement will be graded sat/unsat.

All courses and productions, with the sole exception of the sophomore and junior tutorials, are open to non-concentrators. It is a goal of the concentration to serve concentrators and non-concentrators alike. Many of our courses have been taught for years and have served non-concentrators as well as students declaring a secondary field in drama. This outward-looking orientation will be maintained in the future.

2. Honors concentration (13 half-courses):

- Same as above, plus:

 - Honors thesis. Offered in the form of a Senior Tutorial (under the 99 label). The thesis can be either performance-based or critical (counts for 2 half-courses). Critical honors theses are yearlong research and writing projects supervised by a faculty member, similar to those in English and other humanities departments. Performance-based honors theses combine a substantial research component with a performance component, supervised by a faculty member. Performance-based senior projects can be solo shows, but they may also involve the participation of other students. Theses are proposed in the spring of the junior year and must be approved by a faculty advisor. While the thesis project itself is graded, the tutorial is sat/unsat.

II. Comment on the role of media in the new concentration:

Even though we do not intend to create separate dance or media tracks, we recognize that some of the most important contemporary theater work happens at the intersection of theater, dance, performance, and media. Film and video technologies have long been used as means of expression on the stage, and audio technologies have reshaped the use of sound material. At the same time, some of the most influential theatrical events take place outside traditional theater spaces, in galleries, museums, or en plain air. Performance art and installation art straddle the divide between visual art, theater, and dance.

While media-oriented work also occurs in other departments, including the Dance Center and Music, the most important partner in developing this exciting area will be V.E.S., where most of Harvard’s courses in film and visual media are located. The concentration has invited members of V.E.S. to join the committee, and we are hoping to develop a reciprocal relationship in the various overlapping areas of interest, allowing the students in the proposed concentration access to V.E.S. courses and V.E.S. students access to our courses in directing, acting, and scenography.